Recently, I was asked to speak at our Manufacturing team’s “town hall” to describe what our Life Science and X-Ray group are up to. Generally, I believe that individuals are more engaged in their work when they have an understanding of its real value. The real value of the product I am involved with can best be described as immediate and far-reaching in its ability to improve lives.
Looking at the audience, I could see that roughly 50% were women, and potentially impacted directly by my topic. The men in the audience have mothers, daughters, wives or girlfriends, so I knew what I was about to speak about would have impact for them too. My topic? Breast cancer.
First, some unfortunate statistics.
- 1 in 9 women develop breast cancer
- 1 in 29 die as a result.
- It is the #1 form of cancer detected in women.
From 1986 to the present, the death rate from breast cancer has dropped by more than 25% and now, 88% of women diagnosed are surviving past the 5 year mark. It can be argued that this improvement is a result of improved screening and detection. Detection at the earliest point in its development plays a critical role in improving chances of survival.
In recent years I have had the honour of leading the development of an X-Ray TDI detector used for mammography. Turns out our Charge Coupled Device (CCDs) technology is well suited to mammography applications. Perfectly sized pixels (just small enough to achieve top performance without being unnecessarily small) help with improved resolution, hence the ability to see smaller microcalcifications in the breast. We developed a die-butting and assembly capability that allows for the field of view necessary to scan the human breast. Anti-blooming allows for an improved view of the skin line around the periphery of the image – a key feature that radiologists look for. And because the risk of x-ray exposure during a scan is such a hot topic, the ability to resolve features at a lower dose is a distinct advantage of the TDI modality. Finally, it cannot be overlooked that a faster scan means an uncomfortable procedure is over more quickly. I truly believe that the developments we are involved in now, and those we’re working on for the future will help us move the mortality rate down a further few notches.
It seems breast cancer has always been near me; my grandmother survived it, and my wife had a breast cancer scare at a relatively young age. I was lucky to be given the opportunity to work in the field of mammography and have this kind of an impact – one that can be so easily linked to saving lives. But I generally see technology as an enabler for improving lives, no matter the form that takes. When you get your chance to improve quality of life through technology, my advice is to make the most of that chance. It’s bound to be both rewarding and motivating at the same time – and something I believe we’re all called to.